found in Guatemala
(Image: Kenneth Garrett/ cNational Geographic)
Archaeologists working in Guatemala say they have uncovered
one of the most spectacular pieces of artwork created by the ancient
They say they have discovered a mural depicting the Maya creation
myth and the coronation of a king, thought to be more than 2,000
Archaeologist William Saturno said it was like finding the
Maya equivalent of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.
The mural was discovered at the San Bartolo site in northern
Mr Saturno, of the University of New Hampshire, said the mural
- painted in greyish blue, orange and flesh tones - was discovered
at the western wall of a room attached to a pyramid.
An illustration of a cut-out view of the pyramid
complex at San Bartolo
(Image: Vlad Dumitrascu/cNational Geographic)
The mural on the wall - measuring 0.9x9m (3x30 ft) - includes
four deities, which are variations of the same figure, the son
of the maize god, offering a blood sacrifice from his genitals.
The first deity stands in the water and offers a fish, establishing
the watery underworld, Mr Saturno said.
The second stands on the ground and sacrifices a deer, establishing
the land; the third floats in the air, offering a turkey to establish
the sky; and the fourth stands in a field of flowers, the food
of gods, establishing paradise.
The crowned Maya king is depicted at the end of the mural,
Mr Saturno said.
"It was like discovering the Sistine Chapel if you didn't
know there had been a Renaissance," Mr Saturno said at a
"It's like knowing only modern art and then stumbling
on the finger of God touching the hand of Adam," he said.
Mr Saturno first reported the discovery of the site in 2002.
The western wall is thought to be painted about 100 BC, but
was later covered when the room was filled in.
Archaeologists say the artwork is particularly unique because
it dates from hundreds of years before the classical Maya period.
The Mayas - known for their prowess in astronomy and mathematics
- dominated southern Mexico and parts of Central America for some
The mural and William Saturno's research will be featured in
the January issue of National Geographic magazine.